Emily continued to toss and turn in her sleep, whispering “no” over and over again. She kept having the same nightmare; her parents and little Dana getting killed in a car crash. Most nights she would simply wake up, roll over, and fall back asleep. But this night seemed different. She couldn’t wake herself up. She was trapped inside her nightmare and was actually driving the car that pushed them off the road. Her hands were glued to the steering wheel and her foot would not move from the gas pedal. The more she tried to break free, the more difficult it became. The girl squeezed her eyes shut, praying that she would wake up, but the next time she opened them she was chained to the driver’s seat. She heard honking just as the two cars collided. Only then did Em bolt awake, sweat dripping from her face. Her heart was pounding in her ears and her throat was dry. She found herself panting in order to regain her breath. Joe, noticing the girl’s panic, promptly jumped on to the bed and curled up next to her. Emily wrapped her arms around the dog’s neck – tighter than she probably should have – and buried her face in his fur. The dog was her only comfort in the night when the nightmares came. Even though he couldn’t say anything, his presence was enough to remind Em that she was not alone. She sniffled and buried her face in Joe’s fur even more, trying to escape the dream that was still lingering on her mind. She was so sick and tired; she just wanted them to go away.
“I don’t know what to do,” Emily whispered. “Joe, I don’t know what to do.”
Just then, the dog escaped the girl’s grasp and hopped off of the bed. He walked over to the girl’s closet – which was open – and pushed pieces of clothing out of the way until he found what he was looking. His nose brushed against a cardboard box, and then he looked back at Em. She was simply staring at him, not sure what he was doing. But the dog continued to look at the girl, whining. Emily eventually got up and sat down next to Joe, still unsure. He turned back around and rubbed the box again. Em, curious about what Joe wanted, reached into the closet and grasped the cardboard box. She lifted it out of its corner and placed it in front of her. Photo Albums was written on the top in fainted marker. A sigh escaped Em’s lips as she traced the letters with her finger.
“How did you know?” she asked the puppy, knowing he wasn’t going to respond.
Emily remembered the day she and Pa retrieved the box from the girls’ old apartment. He had shoved it into her arms even though she wanted to leave it behind. As soon as they got back to the ranch, the girl shoved it in the back of her closet. She didn’t want to look at the pictures. She couldn’t. They would only remind her of the good life she had before everything happened. They would be filled with love and laughter and good times that Em simply wanted to forget about. They would cause her too much pain. But now she was sitting on her bedroom floor with the box in front of her, contemplating on whether or not she should open it. Joe kept nudging the box with his nose, and then he placed his paw on top, wanting Em to open it. If she was going to open it, she needed more space than her room allowed. The girl pushed herself to her feet, threw her robe and slippers on, and grabbed the box. She quietly snuck out of her room, Joe trotting behind her, and made her way downstairs. There was already a lamp on in the living room, but nobody was around. Someone probably just forgot to turn it off. Emily sat on the floor next to the lamp and cautiously opened the box. She knew what she would find; she just didn’t know how she would feel. Would it make her go back into depression? Would it make her want to run back to Zach? Would it make her happy and thankful? She had no idea the affect the pictures would have on her, but Emily lifted the first album out of the box anyways.
Joe curiously looked over Emily’s shoulder as she opened the album. The first picture she saw was a picture from her parents’ wedding. Her father had a full head of hair that wasn’t gray, and her mother’s hair reached her lower back even though it was in a braid. The smiles plastered to their faces made their eyes all squinty, but at least they were genuine. They were each holding a glass of Champaign that looked as though it was going to spill. Emily stared at the picture for a long time, not wanting to let go of her parents. When Joe eventually nudged her with his nose, the girl turned to the next picture. It was a picture of when Dana was born. She continued to flip through the photos of Dana’s birthdays and Christmases until she came to one that stuck out. Dana, who was in elementary, was sitting in front of the Christmas tree with her mother sitting next to her. The girl had her ear pressed against her mother’s swollen belly, and both were grinning from ear to ear. A lone tear slid down Em’s cheek as she reached inside the album and took the picture out of its sleeve. She set the photo next to her on the ground, and then went back to retrieve the wedding picture of her parents. The pile she started next to her of the two pictures was going to be a pile for photos she wanted to frame and keep in her room. Trying to keep her tears under control, Em proceeded to slowly flip through the rest of the album. She came across a photo of her mother sitting in a hospital bed with baby Emily attached to her chest. The girl’s favorite part, though, was Dana peaking over the bed and watching her mother and baby sister intently. It was a beautiful picture in every sense of the word. The last picture in the photo album was of Emily’s first birthday. Her face was covered in chocolate cake and she had on a green shirt that read Daddy’s M&M. Dana was standing behind Em’s highchair while her parents were kissing the baby’s cheeks. Emily slid the photo out of its sleeve and added it to the pile. As she looked at the three photos she had collected, the tears she had held back started to escape. She couldn’t believe that everyone in the photos – besides her – was gone; all that was left of them were the photos sitting in front of her. She remembered the day she had tried to destroy every memory of her parents; Dana held her and calmed her down before she broke everything. Now, Em was cherishing the pictures and the memories, not wanting to let them go.
The tears continued to roll down her cheeks, and Emily wiped them away with her sleeve. She sniffled and took a deep breath as she moved on to a different photo album. Joe proceeded to lay his head down on the girl’s lap and fall back asleep. Em opened the new album and immediately recognized the pictures. The album was of the first trip the four of them took as a family. It was a trip to a Wisconsin fishing resort, which Emily hated. She was not an outside person, but her parents thought it would be good for the girls to get away from the city. They spent a week at the restort – which was in the middle of the woods – without internet or TV. It wasn’t a very fun trip for Em, which was showcased in the frown she had in every picture. The only picture where she was smiling was when she, her mom, and her sister were sunbathing on the dock. Her dad must’ve told a joke or something, because all three of them were laughing so hard their faces were red. That was another picture Em added to her pile.
Em continued flipping through the photo album, occasionally pulling out a photo and adding it to her pile. She ran her fingers through Joe’s fur as she went along, enjoying the calming sensation of the dog’s presence. She was so focused on the pictures in front of her that she didn’t even notice the basement door opening. Jackson walked through the opening wearing sweats and a white t-shirt. His hair was matted to one side and sticking up on the other. He was also barefoot, which was one of the reasons Emily didn’t hear him. Jackson stood in the doorway for probably too long. He watched as the girl sniffled and wiped away tears, turning the pages of the photo album.
“What’re you doing?” he asked.
Em’s entire body jumped at Jackson’s voice. “Um…” she stammered.
“What are those?” the boy took a step towards the pictures.
“They’re…um…They’re pictures…of my family…”
Jackson got so close that he was towering over Emily. He simply gazed down at the pictures in the albums, forgetting why he came upstairs. His eyes wandered over to the pile of pictures sitting by the girl’s side and was curious about why they were sitting separate from the rest. He slowly bent over and picked up the pile, watching Em all the while. The boy looked at each picture carefully before saying something.
“What are these?”
Emily sniffled and wiped away a tear. “They’re the special ones. The ones with my parents smiling. The ones where Dana’s happy. The ones where we’re a family.”
Jackson put the pictures back on the ground and then sat down behind Emily. He wrapped his arms around her stomach and let her fall into him. He rested his chin on her shoulder as she let her head fall back. They sat like that for several seconds, letting the silence fill the space. Jackson’s arms around Em reminded her that her immediate family may not be with her anymore, but she still had a family. She still had Pa and Jackson and the men. She still had people who cared about her. Em looked down when Jackson removed one of his arms so that he could flip through the photo albums. Em explained the pictures as they went, but most of them were self-explanatory. The tears came and went, but so did the smiles and the laughs. The girl wasn’t afraid to expose herself to Jackson, and he was glad she was finally opening-up to him. He was there if she needed someone to cry with; he was there if she needed someone to laugh with; he was there if she simply needed someone.
They suddenly came across a photo of the two sisters together. They were snuggled against each other and sharing a blanket. Em’s head was resting on her older sister’s shoulder, and Dana had an arm around her little sister’s waist. They were on the couch in front of the TV, but there wasn’t a move playing. There wasn’t a game on the coffee table. It was just the two girls cuddling in the living room. Emily didn’t remember that moment. She didn’t remember any of the good memories, or it at least it was hard to. She and her sister fought so much that she pushed out all the good memories. But this picture was proof that there were good moments between them. There was love. There was family. The tears started to pour down Emily’s cheeks again, but this time she couldn’t stop them. She crumbled into Jackson, and he held her. He rocked her and whispered to her and comforted her. Even when Em cried out for Dana, he was there to remind her that she wasn’t alone.
“They’re all gone!” Em wept. “They’re all gone!”
“Sshh,” Jackson whispered.
“What am I gonna do! Jackson, what am I gonna do!” Em balled.
“Sshh, it’s okay.”
“They’re all gone!”
Em’s cheeks were flooded with tears that would not stop coming. She had been hiding her full feelings since she had come to the ranch, but now they were becoming exposed. Jackson tightened his grip on the girl whenever she was about to fall. It was hard for him to see her like this. He loved her; he hated it whenever she broke down. He hated it when he couldn’t help her. He didn’t know what she was going to do, even though she kept asking. He didn’t know what to tell her. He just wanted her to know that she had him and that he was never going to leave. So he kept holding her and whispering comforting words to her. But she just kept crying.
Again, Emily cried out about what to do. She wasn’t expecting an answer, but Jackson eventually gave her one. “Maybe you should let them go.”
“What?” Em sniffled, twisting her body to look at him.
“Maybe you should let them go,” Jackson responded while wiping away her tears. “They’re gone, Emily. They’re never coming back.” Unfortunately, that made Em cry more. “But you still have a family,” Jackson quickly continued. “You have us: Pa, Brian, Johnny. Me. You’re not alone. You’re never alone.” Emily wiped her nose with the back of her hand and sniffled back some tears. Jackson reached up and tucked her hair behind her ears and then took her face in both of his hands. They rested their foreheads against each other and sat there. Emily was finally starting to calm down. “Maybe it’s time for you to let them go and focus on the family around you.”
Emily looked down at the photos that were around her feet. Her parents and her sister looked so happy, and she did, too. She wished she could jump into them and return to the past because that’s when everyone was happy. She wanted to return to the good moments where she laughed so hard chocolate milk came out of her nose. She wanted to argue with her sister until her face turned red. She wanted to wake her parents up at night because she was scared from a nightmare. She wanted her family back. But Jackson was right; they were gone and they weren’t coming back. No matter how much Em wished and wanted, nothing would bring them back. Even though it pained Em to think it, maybe it was time to let them go, and focus on the family around her.
The girl moved away from Jackson and began picking up the pictures. She closed the photo albums and returned them to the cardboard box. She collected the loose pictures and gripped them in her hand. Jackson simply stood back and watched, not wanting to get in her way. When she was done, Em embraced him and buried her nose in the crook of his neck.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Emily kissed Jackson’s cheek before letting him go and shuffling towards the stairs. “Goodnight,” she smiled, and then disappeared upstairs.
She gazed down at the pictures in her hand as she entered her room. She turned a small lamp on and then sat on the edge of her bed. Emily focused on the picture of her and Dana cuddling on the couch. Dana seemed so happy and content. Her cheeks were a soft pink, and her red hair was as bright as the sun. Even though Em was focused on the picture in front of her, an image of Dana from the hospital seeped into the girl’s mind. She saw her older sister lying unconscious on the hospital bed. Her hands were folded on her chest as though she was in a casket. Her beautiful hair was greasy and gross. And her cheeks were paler than the bedsheets that surrounded her.
“What do I do, Lord?” Emily prayed with a whisper, still staring at the picture of her sister. “Jackson’s right. They’re all gone, even Dana. I know I should let them go, but I don’t know how. Please…help me…please…”
Em sat on the edge of her bed for a long time, waiting for a response. She never heard a booming voice in her head, and there were no shining lights from above. All she received was silence and a nudge to go into Pa’s room. Tentatively, Em stood up and moseyed across the hall. Pa’s door was open by an inch, so she carefully pushed it open. The old man was sleeping on his back with his hands folded on his chest. She noticed that his chest struggled to move up and down as he breathed, but other than that, he looked peaceful. Em didn’t want to bother him. She pushed away the urge to wake him up and turned out of his room.
“Emily? Is that you?” Pa grumbled, squinting in to the darkness.
How did he know I was here? Em thought to herself.
“Yes,” the girl replied.
“Is everything okay?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” Emily explained, thinking he would tell her to go back to bed.
“I’m having trouble myself,” the old man lied as he pushed himself into a sitting position.
He reached over and clicked on the lamp that was next to his bed. He then patted the corner of the bed, inviting Em to sit down. The girl stood in the doorway, not sure what move to make. She felt awkward sitting with her grandpa in the middle of the night, but she also didn’t want to deny him. And she did come in to his room for a reason. She took a cautious step forward and eventually made it to the bed. Pa watched as his granddaughter sat down, never looking at him.
“What’s on your mind?” he inquired.
“Everyone,” Emily replied. “My parents. My sister.”
“I know Dana’s sitting in a hospital somewhere, but it feels as though I’ve lost her and she’s never coming back. I thought, if I let her be, then I’d feel as though she was always there for me, and then I wouldn’t be alone. But I feel alone, Pa.”
“I know,” the old man repeated. “Sometimes, no matter what we do or tell ourselves, we’ll always have that empty feeling in our chest. A hole that can never be filled…” Pa trailed off as he looked over at the picture of his wife. “But they’re never truly gone,” he explained to the picture. “They’ll always be with us, in here,” he placed his hand over his heart.
Emily looked at her grandfather curiously; he was never that poetic, which made her concerned. “Pa? Pa, are you okay?”
Pa shook out of his thoughts and smiled weakly at his granddaughter. “I’m an old man, Emily. My thoughts are prone to wonder.” He sighed and rubbed his face with his hand. “What I’m saying is that sometimes we have to let people go, but we have to remember that they’re never truly gone.”
Emily even surprised herself when she leaned over and rested her head against her grandfather’s shoulder. “But it’s so hard…”
“I know, Em,” Pa patted her hand. “I know.”
The bacon was sizzling in the skillet as Emily raced across the kitchen. There was toast burning in the toaster, egg casserole baking in the oven, and bacon sizzling on the stove. The men went out at sunrise to check on the horses and make sure everything stayed safe throughout the night. Pa went out with them – which was surprising – and asked Em to make breakfast. She wasn’t a cook, so she was concerned about how this meal was going to turn out. Toast was easy because you stuck it in the toaster and then buttered it. The egg casserole was a different story entirely, though, because it involved mixing things together, putting it in the oven, and then watching it so it didn’t cook for too long. And the bacon had to be perfect or else Brian was going to complain. This was the first time Em had cooked anything by herself; she hoped she wouldn’t screw it up. She cranked down the temperature on the stove and flipped the bacon so it didn’t burn. The toast popped out of the toaster, so she rushed over and dropped the pieces on a plate, burning her fingers. The casserole was bubbling as she slid it out of the oven and placed it on the counter. It felt as though she was out of breath and sweating by the time everything was situated and ready. The men came in just as she finished setting the table and buttering the toast. Jackson pulled his muddy boots off, hung up his hat, and then jogged into the kitchen. He reached around Emily and snatched a piece of bacon from the skillet, burning his fingers and his tongue. Brian and Pa were in a deep conversation as they stepped into the living room.
“Hey!” Emily barked at them. “Boots!”
They looked down at their feet and realized they forgot to take off their filthy boots. As quick as they were able, the two men went back to the door, tugged off their shoes, and stepped back into the living room. There were several mud-prints, though, that would need to be cleaned up later. Johnny was slower to enter the kitchen, as usual. Emily had noticed that even though Johnny was a part of the ‘family,’ he kept quiet and stayed in the back most of the time. Everyone eventually made it into the kitchen and sat down at the table. Em placed the egg casserole in the middle of the table, and then placed a piece of toast and bacon on each plate.
“I hope it’s alright,” the girl said tentatively. “I’m not a big cooker.”
“I’m sure it’s fine,” Pa comforted, taking a drink from his mug and then coming up empty. “Em, I think you forgot something…”
Emily bolted from her seat and ripped the coffee pot from the machine. She quickly filled every mug with coffee and returned the pot. She fell back into her seat next to Jackson, embarrassed. She quickly filled her plate with casserole and shoved several spoonsful into her mouth. She then gulped down most of her coffee. She felt completely embarrassed and didn’t want to see or hear the men’s comments. Pa, realizing he wasn’t going to get a chance to say prayer, filled his plate up with food and began eating. The three men followed suit, remaining silent. After several awkward minutes of silence, Emily piped up.
“How does everything look outside?”
“Normal,” the old man grumbled.
“The horses are fine,” Brian added. “The colt is growing up fast. You should go see him, Emily.”
“It’s already really hot out,” Johnny joined in. “I think the heat will be unbearable today. It’s gonna be a good day to stay inside and do nothing.”
“It’d be nice to have a day off,” Jackson declared.
Emily looked over at her grandfather to see what he thought of what the men were saying. One of his hands were gripping his coffee cup, and one hand was holding his fork that was resting on his plate. He seemed to be staring off into nowhere with a frown pulling the corners of his mustache down. This image of Pa reminded Em of last night when he trailed off and stared at the picture of his wife. He was starting to become more forgetful, and more lost. It made Emily uneasy.
“Pa,” the girl whispered to the old man. He looked up at her, his bushy eyebrows hanging over his eyes. “What do you think about taking the day off?”
“I think… I think that’s a good idea.” Em sighed with relief. “You and I,” he pointed at his granddaughter, “need to pack, anyways.”
“Pack?” she inquired, confused.
“Remember, we talked last night about going to see Dana.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t mean immediately,” the girl explained.
“Well, we better do it while it’s fresh in our minds,” Pa declared, pushing himself out of his chair.
“But you shouldn’t fly,” Brian mentioned, making Pa stop.
“I can fly,” Pa snapped.
“But you shouldn’t. It’s a danger to your health.”
The mug in Pa’s hand began to shake. He grumbled to himself as he shifted his weight. Emily shifted her gaze between her grandfather and Brian. Brian seemed to know everything about Pa’s health, but he never shared the information. Em had no idea Pa couldn’t – or shouldn’t – fly. Of course, he didn’t mention it to her, but neither did Brian. Why were they keeping Pa’s health a secret? She needed to know; she was his granddaughter. Realizing Pa’s hand continued to shake, the girl stood up and walked over to him. She gently took the mug away from him and set it on the counter.
“It’s okay, Pa,” Em declared. “We’ll figure something out.”
“I can go with her,” Brain offered.
“Me too,” Jackson added.
The old man looked at his granddaughter, and she noticed that his gray eyes looked exhausted. His bushy eyebrows covered half of his eyes, and his loose skin hung down. The frown on his face wasn’t really a frown; it was just the corners of his mustache hanging down because he didn’t have enough energy to smile. Pa usually hid his fatigue pretty well so that nobody worried about him, but it was becoming more obvious. He didn’t have enough energy to even smile. Emily was looking at him with concern as he leaned against the counter and rubbed his chest. He then rubbed his face with his hand and sighed, looking at the floor.
“Go,” he grumbled, and then looked up at Em. “You can go.”
“But –” the girl argued.
“Brian’s right,” Pa continued. “I shouldn’t fly. And driving would be too dangerous. You should go and be with your sister.”
Tears welled up in Em’s eyes as she embraced the old man. Pa hugged her back weakly, looking at Brian over her shoulder. The man gave Pa an approving nod right before the old man let go of the girl. She rushed out of the kitchen and ran up to her room. The old man watched her go, and then turned back to the kitchen table. He collected his dirty dishes and placed them on the counter. The other men helped clear the table of dishes and food. Pa began washing as Brain picked up a towel and started drying. They did all of the dishes and carefully put them away. Johnny turned on a fan in the living room and collapsed in front of it. Brian went downstairs to pack a bag for the trip to the city. Jackson went upstairs to check on Emily. Pa was left in the kitchen by himself. Knowing he already had coffee, the old man heated up some water for tea. He retrieved a clean mug and a tea bag. His hands shook uncontrollably as his crooked fingers struggled to open the tea bag. The kettle whistled on the stove, but the tea bag was still not open. In frustration, Pa threw it onto the counter and nearly knocked over the mug. The bright yellow tea kettle continued to whistle, but Pa ignored it. He wasn’t himself, and it was eating away at him.
Upstairs in her room, Emily was busy sorting through her loose papers. She was looking for a clean sheet so that she could write a quick prayer. It was easier for her to get her thoughts down on paper because they became clearer, and she didn’t get distracted as easy. She found a balled-up piece of paper and quickly straightened it out. It was empty, so she grabbed a pen and began writing. (She really needed to get a journal). She prayed that they would have a safe trip to the city. She prayed that nothing serious would happen while she was away from the ranch. She prayed that she had the courage to let go of her sister. Her faith was becoming stronger everyday, but she just hoped that she had enough strength to let go of Dana. Her trust in God was fairly stable, but letting go of her sister was one thing she didn’t fully agree with. She still didn’t understand how losing her family was a part of God’s plan. Emily was a good person – or at least she tried to be. Why was God taking away all of the people she loved? Her sister was her best friend; she was Em’s rock and support. But as soon as Em pulled the plug, Dana was going to be gone. Even though the older sister was pretty much gone now, her presence was still visible. The minute Dana died, Emily would no longer be able to see her. And that was terrifying. What if Em forgot Dana’s face? Her smile, her nose, how the corners of her eyes curled. And what about Dana’s nervous tick of sniffing and twirling her hair? What would happen if Emily forgot everything? She prayed that nothing would disappear; she prayed that every thought and image of her sister remained in her memory for forever.
Jackson was leaning against Emily’s doorframe, watching as she scribbled words onto the paper. He quickly knocked against the wall, getting her attention. She frantically shoved the paper and pen under her pillow and buried all of the other papers under a blanket. She didn’t like the idea of sharing her prayers with others, even if it was Jackson.
“Do you need help packing?” the boy asked.
“I haven’t started.”
“Me neither,” he responded, pushing himself off of the wall.
“Do you think I’m making the right choice,” Emily wondered as Jackson sat down next to her.
The boy took her hand and held it in his lap. “I think so. After this, you’ll be able to move on.”
Emily gulped down his response and nodded. Half of her felt like she was making the right choice, but the other half was yelling at her to stay on the ranch. “I’m afraid, that if I go through with it, I’ll lose her forever.”
Jackson looked at Em and smiled. “You’ll never lose her. I know it’s cheesy to say, but she’ll always be with you.”
“Yeah… I know that now…”
Brian’s head suddenly popped into the room. “Pa and I made a few phone calls, and our plane leaves tonight. I know it’s still morning, but you two should pack anyways.”
“Right, okay,” Jackson commented. Brian disappeared and the boy and girl were alone again. Jackson leaned over and kissed Emily’s head. “It’s gonna be okay. She’s your sister. She’d want you to do this. She’d want you to move on.”
The rest of the day moved by slowly. Emily was nervous about getting on a plane and flying to see her sister. She continued to question whether or not it was a good idea. She felt that as soon as she leaved the ranch, everything in her life would change. And it would. And that terrified her, making her shake in her skin. Every movement during the day was a blur because she continued to think of situations that would occur once they reached the hospital. Whenever someone talked to Em, they had to repeat it several times because she was always immersed in her thoughts. It wasn’t until they were carrying their suitcases onto the porch that the situation suddenly seemed real.
Brain limped onto the porch first, stepping over Dusty. His suitcase seemed tiny next to his huge form, but he still struggled to lift it. Jackson followed the man, carrying his duffle bag over his shoulder. Even though Johnny had told him bringing his hat was a bad idea, the boy still wore it to the truck. Emily stumbled over the sleeping dog, her half-empty duffle bag weighing her down. She gripped its straps for dear life as she nervously marched down the porch steps. She knew she was making the right choice because she felt God pushing her along, but it still slightly felt wrong. She knew her sister wasn’t fully alive, but she was still breathing. She was still physically there. Emily could still see her. But what Em was about to do would take that all away. On her way to the rusty truck, Emily stopped and turned around. Pa was standing on the porch, his thumbs resting on his belt loops and his back hunched. Johnny was standing behind him, leaning against the house. The old man looked up once he realized his granddaughter was staring at him. He gave her a weak smile and an approving nod. She smiled and nodded back. She finished the trek to the truck and climbed in to the middle seat. Jackson hopped into the vehicle and sat next to her; Brian pulled himself in to the driver’s seat, making the truck shake. Emily watched out the back window as they pulled away from the house, the shape of her grandpa slowly disappearing.
The drive to the airport was a long and quiet one. Emily remained silent, and stared straight ahead the whole time. Jackson tried to talk to her, but her responses were next to nothing. Eventually the boy gave up and stared out his own window. The small town was soon replaced with busy streets and tall buildings. The atmosphere was similar to what Emily grew up in, but it all felt foreign. The fast cars and determined people put Em on edge. And it got worse once they reached the airport. There were people sprinting across the building, and little children running around. Inpatient flight attendants were directing people through long lines. And angry passengers pushed past Em and the two men with her.
“I don’t like this,” Em thought out loud.
Jackson reached over and gripped the girl’s hand. “It’ll be okay,” he reassured her.
They made their way through slowly through security. Brian had to get padded down because off all the metal on his bib overalls. Jackson’s carry-on bag had to be checked because his toothpaste bottle was too big. Surprisingly, Emily made it through without any problems. Once they were safely on the other side of security, the three of them searched for their gate. It happened to be on the other end of the airport, so they all rushed across the long building. They made it just as the flight attendant announced it was time to board. Brian went through the line first so that the kids didn’t feel bombarded by all of the requests. Emily, however, already felt bombarded. Em shuffled through the airplane aisles until she found her seat, which happened to be over a wing. She automatically claimed the inside seat next to the window as Jackson sat down next to her. Brian searched for his seat and eventually found it in the back of the plane. He was slightly annoyed that he was so far away from Emily and Jackson, but there was nothing he could do about it. He sat down with a grumble and closed his eyes. Em, however, kept her eyes wide open. Her mind was racing with thoughts and memories of her sister, and she was afraid that if she closed her eyes they would all go away. She leaned her head against the cool wall of the plane and gazed out the window. She could feel Jackson shifting in his seat next to her, but she didn’t respond. She remained as still as possible, focusing on the images of Dana that were dancing around in her head. She wanted to cherish every memory; she wanted to remember every little detail. She focused all her energy in memorizing Dana’s beautiful smile and the way her eyes squinted. She reimaged the sound of her laugh, and then played it over and over. Every tiny little detail that most people would deem unimportant were the ones she focused hardest on. Nothing was going to be forgotten: nothing.
Emily sighed and fell deeper into her seat. The plane jolted as it began to move, making Jackson grip his armrests. Em wanted to ask if this was his first time flying, but she didn’t have enough energy to. Instead, she readjusted herself and laid her head on the boy’s shoulder. She wrapped her arms around his and closed her eyes, knowing that his presence meant safety. She felt a gentle kiss on the top of her head, and then slowly drifted in to a very unwanted sleep.